Mamasapano report based on 'emotions, not facts'

 SKEWED UNDERSTANDING? Senator Grace Poe shows the Senate report on Mamasapano, which the Commission on Human Rights is criticizing. File photo by Joel Leporada/Rappler

MANILA – It was based on emotions, not facts. 

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) assailed some of the conclusions made by the Senate investigation report on the Mamasapano bloodbath, saying these were “mostly based on emotions rather than an objective interpretation of facts.”

In a statement on Sunday, March 22, CHR chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales took exception to the Senate’s investigation report regarding the following issues: its reference to what happened on January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, as a “massacre;” its “failure” to highlight the civilians killed in the crossfire; and its skewed understanding of the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF.)

“While condemning what happened in Mamasapano, the Commission must caution against broad statements which serve no purpose other than to polarize public opinion,” Rosales stressed.

“While the Commission commiserates with the families of the victims and acknowledges that the killing of the Fallen 44 was unjustified, categorizing the incident as a ‘massacre’ is excessive,” she said.

“The mere use of high-powered firearms and mortars does not automatically equate to cruelty, inasmuch as it was not clearly established who, between the MILF and BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), used what,” she added. “Moreover, this characterization also overlooks the fact that the SAF (Special Action Force) were armed, albeit outgunned. In other words, although their situation was dire, the SAF were not necessarily ‘helpless or unresisting,’” Rosales said.

“Worse, the Senate Report describes the situation as akin to walking into a trap. This equates the incident to an ambush, which is not borne out by the records because the MILF itself, much less the BIFF, was unaware of the arrival of the SAF.” (READ: Mamasapano: Time on target)

The report, signed by 20 senators, was made by the Senate Committees on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, and Finance. The investigation was led by Senator Grace Poe. 

It holds President Benigno Aquino III “ultimately responsible” for the Mamasapano carnage that killed 5 civilians, 44 police commandos and 18 Moro rebels. A separate report by the police Board of Inquiry also held Aquino responsible for "bypassing the chain of command" during the Mamasapano operation.

But the Senate report also said that the "first sin" was committed by the MILF. 

Skewed understanding

This "trivializes" how the MILF has approached the peace process, Rosales said.

Rosales lamented that the report "merely painted the Mamasapano incident as black and white, without taking [into] consideration...the intricacies and complexities of the southern peace process."

She explained: “The inability of the MILF leadership to control a few elements of the [BIFF] has nothing to do with its sincerity in entering into peace negotiations. The actions of a few rogue members cannot and should not be interpreted as the actions of the whole."

Rosales said the senators "could have weighed on the political maturity of the MILF for its willingness to forego its armed struggle and agree to decommission its forces in exchange for a political settlement in Mindanao, which the organization has been fighting for in more than four decades."

She also slammed the report for its accusations of “excess of optimism” against the government peace panel that took the lead in the process that led to the signing of a peace agreement with the MILF last year.

“While the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) may have its defects, a court of law has yet to rule on the legality of its provisions. That legal luminaries have weighed in on both sides of the argument is a clear indication that even experts are divided on the matter. In any case, the BBL is pending before Congress, precisely to give Senators and Members of the House of Representatives the opportunity to review its provisions,” Rosales said.

She cited that other “internal conflicts take time to resolve.”

“In El Salvador, it took 12 years of fighting before the Government and the Frente Faribundo Martí de Liberación Nacional managed to enter into the Chapultepec Agreement. In Northern Ireland, two decades of violence preceded the signing of the Belfast Agreement,” Rosales said.

She emphasized that “the complexity of the situation in Mindanao is no different.” 

Rosales also noted the failure of the Senate committees to highlight the welfare of civilians who died in the firefight.

“One must not overlook the fact that, outside of the Fallen 44, there were five (5) civilians and... MILF casualties, resulting in the death of a total of 66 Filipinos, including a child of 8 years of age,” she said. – Rappler.com